Autism News

Catalyst First Jackson County Business to Complete FSU CARD’s Autism-Friendly Business Training

Catalyst First Jackson County Business to Complete FSU CARD’s Autism-Friendly Business Training

Marianna, Florida (November 30, 2021) — Catalyst Fabric Solutions, a web-to-textile fulfillment manufacturer in Marianna, is prepared to hire up to five NextStep at Endeavor Academy participants in January now that it has completed Florida State University’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) Autism-Friendly Business Initiative training.

Catalyst plans to offer paid positions to the individuals enrolled in the new autism training program at Endeavor Park in Marianna. Individuals with autism are typically underemployed, and finding paid employment is challenging, according to autism advocates.

Hiring NextStep participants will serve two purposes for Catalyst. First, it will help the five-year-old company address its current worker shortage. Catalyst typically employs about 180 associates throughout the year at its 300,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and up to 350 associates during the fourth quarter to meet holiday demand. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the workforce, and finding dependable employees has become even more difficult for Catalyst, says Jim King, Catalyst operations manager.

“This makes good sense every which way. Anything we can do to diversify our workforce and make us more competitive is something we need to pursue,” King says.

And there is plenty of work at Catalyst for NextStep participants. After collaborating with FSU CARD’s director, Catherine Zenko, and NextStep’s director, Tammy Dasher, King identified several sewing and shipping-related positions, which require repetition and a focus on details.

Catalyst Fabric Solutions, a web-to-textile fulfillment manufacturer in Marianna, is prepared to hire up to fiveNextStep at Endeavor Academy participants in January. It has completed Florida State University’s Center for Autism Related Disabilities (CARD) Autism-Friendly Business Initiative training. 

The second purpose in recruiting NextStep participants is to provide job experience to individuals with autism.

“We can improve a person’s quality of life by offering them meaningful employment and benefit our business at the same time,” says King. He also serves on the Board of Directors for Endeavor Forward, Inc., which oversees NextStep. “Individuals with autism are an untapped resource in our workforce, and they want to work.”

NextStep at Endeavor Academy is projected to begin serving participants in early 2022 and will launch a beta program in January as it finalizes its programming. Participants will learn independent living and career-readiness skills in a classroom setting and through community experiences. In the future, Catalyst hopes to bring sewing machines to NextStep’s classroom to offer on-site job training there.

“NextStep at Endeavor Academy is thrilled Catalyst is eager to hire our participants. Individuals with autism make some of the most dedicated workers, and they bring innovative ideas and perspectives,” Dasher says.

NextStep is being launched by the Jackson County Board of County Commissioners and Endeavor Forward, Inc., a nonprofit organization. NextStep at Endeavor Academy is part of the 1200-acre Endeavor Park mixed-use development at the former Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

Participants will learn a range of topics such as getting a job and navigating the workplace, overseeing personal finances, staying safe at home and in the community, handling friendships and family relationships, dealing with roommates, managing physical and mental health, resolving conflict, and coping skills, and navigating transportation.

About 15 businesses and organizations such as the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library, Pensacola Museum of Art, and Jeri’s Midtown Café in Tallahassee have completed the Autism-Friendly Business training through the FSU CARD office, which serves 18 counties in Florida’s panhandle. FSU CARD started the training initiative in 2018 (although it paused the pandemic) to foster inclusiveness for families and businesses and encourage businesses to hire individuals with autism. Several of the businesses that have completed the training have already hired individuals with autism, and some of the businesses initiated the training to better work with a current employee on the spectrum. Milk and Honey Frozen Yogurt in Marianna is currently in the process of becoming an autism-friendly business.

Free to businesses, the training involves filling out an online application, conducting a Zoom introductory meeting, and completing on-site training. Frequently, FSU CARD recommends that businesses use visual aids to explain processes to individuals with autism better. Businesses receive a decal to place in a window, a logo for their website, and a listing on FSU CARD’s website.

“Our goal is to de-mystify autism. When businesses receive education about autism, any apprehension that may come from fear goes away,” Zenko says. “We are hoping that Catalyst’s completion of the training will encourage other Jackson County businesses. Catalyst’s employees had many ideas and were very enthusiastic about working with individuals with autism. After spending time with Catalyst, you can tell that philosophy of inclusion is a central part of the company’s culture.”

Zenko hopes the training is the beginning of a long-term relationship with the businesses in which they contact FSU CARD over time with questions and additional needs for support.

“We need to give every individual, regardless of ability, the same chances to succeed,” King says. “When you think of autism, you think of kids, but they grow up. Businesses need to give them a chance to be successful. Everyone deserves purpose and meaning.”

Interested NextStep program applicants, families, and employers should email [email protected] or call (850) 482-9633.

About NextStep at Endeavor Academy

Jackson County Board of County Commissioners is launching NextStep at Endeavor Academy and Endeavor Forward, Inc. This Florida-based not-for-profit supports the development and operations of an autism transition, employment, and residential program as part of an inclusive community where the benefits of educating and employing individuals with autism are broadly understood, supported, and valued. NextStep at Endeavor Academy will prepare individuals with autism for transition beyond secondary school by providing instruction in employment and independent living skills. Plans for launching NextStep at Endeavor Academy are projected for the first half of 2022. Future phases include residential living opportunities and community-wide engagement. Visit https://jacksoncountyfl.gov/autism-training/

Alicia Trautwein is an Autism advocate, writer, motivational speaker, and dedicated mom of four. Alicia’s desire to advocate for Autism comes from her own autism diagnosis and that of her three children, niece, and brother. Her life’s mission is to educate on autism acceptance and change the world for future generations of autistic individuals.

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